All sports constantly hark back to a past that glows brighter with every passing year, with the added bonus that some of the less wholesome characteristics associated with that period disappear. Nostalgia ensures the reverse of the Caesar Effect – it is the evil that is oft interred with the bones. But it also ensures that when a team is down, there is a mental craning of the neck to see the days ahead when the world rights itself and favourite teams get back on top.
So it was with Brazil in soccer in the post-Pele years, when the country went without winning the World Cup for 24 years. A whole generation of football lovers around the world might have forgotten or not been aware of Brazil’s years of glory, yet in that wonderful way fact, fantasy and romance merge in sport, it had worked out that Brazil winning was a good thing.
Likewise with the West Indies – a ‘country’ that exists only on a cricket field – and cricket. Every departure from depressing normalcy is seen as a sign of great things to come. After they won the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, reams were written about the resurrection of cricket in the West Indies. Analysis has been replaced by wishful thinking. Twenty20 today, the Test world tomorrow? Perhaps with a brief detour to win the 50-over World Cup?
Or is the assumption that the Twenty20 world is all that matters, and the rich heritage of the game in the West Indies is best served by victories in the abridged format? Test cricket is to Twenty20 what War and Peace is to a grocery list. The shorter game has its place, brings in the moolah, probably attracts an audience that might otherwise have been lost to the game (although there is no empirical evidence for this), and suggests greater possibilities for the marketing men. It cannot be wished away, even if in the long run it might break away from the traditional game, project itself as a different sport altogether and have a separate world body to conduct its affairs.
Twenty20 is not an extension of the first-class game (or more precisely, a compression), but a different animal altogether.
While it is heart-warming that the West Indies, the universal favourites, won a title at last, it is unlikely to have the kind of impact on the sport overall that teary-eyed pundits are claiming. You cannot bat five Twenty20 innings in a row and pretend that is what playing 100 overs in a Test match is all about. If anything, this world title might actually have a negative effect on the game in the West Indies with youngsters fascinated by the idea of a quick game that will earn them untold wealth in the manner it has made millionaires of Chris Gayle or Kieron Pollard.
As for nostalgia for the time the West Indies ruled the world, it must be remembered that there were complaints about intimidation by the fast bowlers who hunted in packs. There was too the inability of the umpires to control this – Indian captain Bishan Bedi once famously declared an innings in Jamaica because his batsmen were all in hospital and he didn’t fancy getting his bowlers injured – or the fact that the over rates were notoriously poor. The current legislation on bouncers and minimum overs per day grew out of such an approach by the West Indies.
Eight years ago, when the West Indies won their last world title, the Champions Trophy, there was a similar outpouring of nostalgia and anticipation. Yet they went through embarrassing series with England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia without a single Test win in any of them.
Not so long ago, there was talk about the islands pulling out of the ‘West Indies’ team and forming their own national teams. The Board-player relationship hasn’t inspired much confidence. The ambition of the young player seems to be to play in the IPL and other similar leagues, rather than put in the effort required to play Test cricket. The Twenty20 win won’t change any of that.